With junior forward Herman Veal ineligible for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament that begins Friday at noon here in the Omni, Maryland's chances for a championship have diminished considerably.
Veal has been declared ineligible by the university for violating a dormitory conduct code.
He will be on the bench in street clothes when Maryland plays Georgia Tech at approximately 9 p.m., following the game between Virginia and Duke, which begins at 7 o'clock.
North Carolina, the top seed, opens the tournament at noon against last-place Clemson, but the defending champion Tar Heels may have to play without all-America center Sam Perkins, who has a sprained toe. Wake Forest will play North Carolina State at 2. All games will be televised on WJLA-TV-7.
The loss of Veal and Perkins to their teams should not be underestimated.
All season, the Terrapins have depended on Veal, a cocaptain, to provide offensive rebounding and defense against the opposition's best player.
He averaged seven points and seven rebounds and on many nights his contributions have been as important as those of Adrian Branch and Ben Coleman, who were named to all-conference teams.
Coach Lefty Driesell was asked this afternoon what effect Veal's absence would have on the game. "Oh, we've got a game? I didn't know that," said Driesell, referring to all the attention focused on Veal's ineligibility for the remainder of the season.
"We'll just approach this as if Herman's out with a sprained ankle," Driesell said. "He'll be on the bench as a coach now. He can turn all that leadership into helping us coach.
"And Ed Farmer and Mark Fothergill will try to take up the slack."
Driesell said he didn't think the team's preparation this week has suffered, but wondered aloud about his own.
"Their minds should be okay," he said. "My mind is the one."
The team had planned a light practice at 9 p.m. tonight in the Omni, but missed its scheduled 6:40 p.m. flight from National Airport and didn't make the workout.
Perkins, the sixth-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder in the ACC, could play against Clemson. He injured the big toe on his right foot while diving for a loose ball in the first half of last Saturday's game against Duke, but played the second half.
After the team took three days off, Perkins still couldn't practice Wednesday and could only walk through the dummy offenses this afternoon.
Tar Heel trainer Marc Davis said Perkins is "questionable . . . we'll know more tomorrow after he warms up." Perkins said he doesn't know what to expect, and Coach Dean Smith said his 6-foot-9 center is doubtful. If Perkins is unable to play, 7-foot sophomore Warren Martin will start.
The top three seeds--North Carolina (25-6), Virgina (25-3) and Maryland (19-8)--will be in the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens this weekend. Clemson (11-19), Duke (11-16) and Georgia Tech (12-14) would have to win this tournament to qualify for the NCAA, which probably makes Wake Forest versus N.C. State, both 17-10, the most meaningful game of the day.
Both feel they can still earn a NCAA bid by winning two games, maybe only one, this weekend.
"NIT versus NCAA--that's the situation for both of us tomorrow," said N.C. State forward Thurl Bailey.
Should Maryland and Virginia win as expected, they would meet Saturday at 3:30 p.m., providing a rematch of Virginia's 83-81 victory in Charlottesville last Sunday.